In theory, heading into the great outdoors — whether for camping, hiking or water sports — offers an opportunity to unplug. And while there’s certainly value in pressing pause on social media, staying away from email and limiting your screen time for a real-life, outdoor adventure; there’s also value in using some technology while you do so. “Tech can make your outdoor adventures safer and ultimately more enjoyable,” said Alex Beale, the owner and editor of outdoor gear site 99Boulders. “Your phone can be your GPS, camera and source of weather information. E-readers and bluetooth speakers can be a great source of entertainment. And without a lantern or headlamp, it’ll be tough to find your way around your campsite at night. Tech isn’t to be left behind when you head outdoors — just used appropriately.” With that in mind, here are eight pieces of technology that can make your time outside that much better.
A reliable GPS system
“Having a GPS system and satellite connection helps give us peace of mind that we can be found in the back country and communicate out to the front country if things go awry,” said Jennine Cohen, managing director of global sales at GeoEx, recommending Garmin’s inReach Explorer+, which “allows you to go deep into the field with a satellite phone with peace of mind of geolocating and emergency communication abilities.”
Amy Alton, a long-distance sailor traveling around the world also touted the inReach’es SOS functionality. “While we have other devices for marine rescue, the major benefit of the inReach is the two-way communication with rescue services,” she said. “While we’ve never needed a rescue, our friends and family can log on at any time to see our location, usually located every hour while on the move; and we can keep in touch with text messages. ...Thanks to the 100 percent satellite coverage, the inReach is perfect for any outdoor adventures like camping, hiking or kayaking. The communication and tracking features greatly mitigate the dangers of solo travel.”
Solar lighting serves dual purposes, Cohen noted: creating ambiance at an evening campsite and “keep[ing] us from tripping and falling in the night.”
MPOWERD, a company focused on creating clean energy products, sells a wide variety of solar lights (including string lights, which can easily double as decor when you’re back home); but for Beale, the Luci Outdoor 2.0 is the go-to. “This is one of the best solar-powered camping lanterns out there,” he said. “It’s affordable and collapsible, and its solar panel charges efficiently. It emits a pleasant white light that’s great for lighting up your campsite at night.” For an extra $15, you can get the Luci Pro: Outdoor 2.0 + Mobile Charging, which can not only charge via USB but also serve as a phone charger once it’s powered up.
While a solar lantern is handy, in some cases you may also need a light that you can hold on to while keeping your hands free. “A good headlamp is crucial for navigating around camp or doing camp chores at night,” Beale said. His choice: The Petzl ACTIK CORE.
“[It’s] an excellent lightweight option that comes with a USB-rechargeable battery and can also be powered with three AAA batteries,” he said. “It has all the features and light settings you could want.” This headlamp costs $70; but if you want a quality option for less, Beale recommended Petzl’s TIKKINA, which costs $20.
Extra battery packs
If you’re going to be away from an outlet for an extended period of time, whether hiking, camping or boating, there’s a good chance you’ll need a way to wirelessly charge your phone. Beale recommended the Anker PowerCore II 10000: “This portable battery pack is a trail-tested favorite in lightweight backpacking circles,” he said. “It’s also great for car camping. It packs enough juice to charge a phone two-to-three times, which is likely all you’ll need for a weekend camping trip with a few friends.” If you plan to entertain yourself with some downloaded Netflix shows at night, Ventev’s chargestand 3000c — with a built-in stand for your phone — is another good option.
And if you’ll be away from any outlets for multiple days, you can get a charger that needs nothing more than the sun. “When you’re out camping and you need to keep your phone charged, having a solar battery pack can be a life saver,” said outdoor writer Hernan Santiesteban. “I specifically like the Hiluckey Solar Charger. If you find yourself in an emergency and need to make a call or use your GPS, this charger can come in very handy.”
A protective phone case
Whether you’re carrying your phone purely for communications purposes or using it throughout your adventure to take pictures, it’s a good idea to protect it. Not only are even the most careful carriers more prone to dropping phones while, say, hiking an uneven trail; but the great outdoors can also potentially do much more damage to a dropped phone than, say, your living room. Help protect against both of those issues with Grip2ü’s Boost case, which comes with an integrated band to help you hold onto your phone and provides sturdy protection in case you do somehow drop it. If you’re going to be in the water or snow, Lifeproof’s FRE — which encases your entire phone so it can be submersed (for one hour in two meters of water) — is another solid option.
A durable camera
In some cases, your phone’s camera might be sufficient for capturing your outdoor adventures; and if you want to upgrade it without carrying too much extra gear, Moritz Witter, chief adventourist with Nordic Adventours recommended carrying a clip-on wide-angle lens from Black Eye Lens. “These will allow you to capture sceneries much, much better than your standard phone camera,” he said.
But if you want to preserve your phone battery, or keep it safe from your rugged adventures, a camera built specifically for that purpose might be a good idea. Sam Maizlech, outdoors and survival expert for Glacier Wellness, recommended a GoPro HERO action camera. “It takes just seconds to set up and it lets me record the amazing sights and sounds without having to think twice about it,” he said. “The picture quality is impeccable, the design is sturdy enough for my needs and it makes it super easy to create stunning action shots and clips. Even with the endless bumps and debris, the voice-activated camera pumps out stabilized footage that is practically professional quality.”
If you’re not the type who can fall asleep just by looking at the stars every night, or you just want a little entertainment on-hand as you go, a lightweight e-reader makes it easy to bring as many books as you want. The “Kindle [Paperwhite] remains the best way I’ve found to read while on a camping or backpacking trip,” Beale said. “The backlight lets you read at night in your tent, and if you turn it down low it won’t disturb your tentmate(s) as they try to fall asleep. For backpacking trips, a Kindle is lighter and less bulky than packing books. Plus, if it dies you can recharge it with a portable battery pack.”
A wireless speaker
Sometimes you need to supplement the sounds of birds and crickets chirping with actual music — and fortunately, Bluetooth speakers these days are made plenty compact and durable for taking on the go. “I really like the JBL Clip,” Cohen said, noting she even brings the small speaker onto her stand-up paddleboard. “[It was] a little splurge buy at an airport that I now never leave home without. It clips right onto my board and it’s an instant dance party out on the water.”